Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Fracking Boom in U.S. and Canada Largely to Blame for Global Methane Spike, Study Finds

Climate
A new study suggests that recent fracking in the U.S. and Canada is largely to blame for the rise of methane in the Earth's atmosphere. Jeff Wallace / Flickr

By Julia Conley

New research by a scientist at Cornell University warns that the fracking boom in the U.S. and Canada over the past decade is largely to blame for a large rise in methane in the earth's atmosphere — and that reducing emissions of the extremely potent greenhouse gas is crucial to help stem the international climate crisis.


Professor Robert Howarth examined hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, over the past several decades, noting the fracking boom that has taken place since the first years of the 21st century. Between 2005 and 2015, fracking went from producing 31 billion cubic meters of shale gas per year to producing 435 billion cubic meters.

Nearly 90 percent of that fracking took place in the U.S., while about 10 percent was done in Canada.

The fracking method was first used by oil and gas companies in 1949, but Howarth concluded that fracking done in the past decade has particularly contributed to the amount of methane in the atmosphere. As Kashmira Gander wrote in Newsweek:

While methane released in the late 20th century was enriched with the carbon isotope 13C, Howarth highlights methane released in recent years features lower levels. That's because the methane in shale gas has depleted levels of the isotope when compared with conventional natural gas or fossil fuels such as coal, he explained.

"The methane in shale gas is somewhat depleted in 13C relative to conventional natural gas," Howarth wrote in the study, published Wednesday in the journal Biogeosciences. "Correcting earlier analyses for this difference, we conclude that shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade."

"The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions," he added.

Other scientists praised Howarth's study on social media.

In addition to being the second-biggest contributor to the climate crisis after carbon dioxide, methane has been known to cause and exacerbate health issues for people who live in areas where large amounts of the gas is present in the environment.

Chest pains, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma can all be caused or worsened by high levels of methane. The process of fracking has also been linked to pollution in drinking water.

The Trump administration has no plans to reduce the amount of fracking that is taking place in the U.S. — rather, President Donald Trump has moved to open up public lands to gas and oil companies looking to purchase leases for fracking.

Howarth urged fossil fuel companies — and the government agencies charged with regulating them — to reverse course, shift to a renewable energy economy and "move as quickly as possible away from natural gas, reducing both carbon dioxide and methane emissions."

Cutting emissions of methane promptly would have a positive impact on the atmosphere and could help to slow the climate crisis, because the atmosphere reacts quickly to the addition and subtraction of the gas.

"This recent increase in methane is massive. It's globally significant. It's contributed to some of the increase in global warming we've seen and shale gas is a major player," Howarth said in a statement.

"If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate," he added. "It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It's the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."

Read More Show Less
Dicamba is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states. A farmer in Mississippi County, Arkansas looks at rows of soybean plants affected by dicamba. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.

Read More Show Less
A bushfire burns outside the Perth Cricket Stadium in Perth, Australia on Dec. 13, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP via Getty Images

By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Read More Show Less

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less